What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) is a condition that can develop in a person who has been exposed to a traumatic event that has posed a real or perceived threat to their safety, or the safety of others around them. PTSD is characterised by feelings of intense fear, distress and helplessness, and these feelings interfere with normal functioning. Traumatic experiences include things like car accidents, physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, terrorism and war, and these events can be directly experienced or witnessed by the person, or they may learn that the event has happened to a friend or family member.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD are likely to be the same as those experienced by anyone who goes through a traumatic event. Most people who experience a trauma will feel these symptoms subside within several days or weeks. For others however, these symptoms persist and develop into PTSD. Anywhere between 5-40% of those who experience a trauma will develop PTSD, and these people are likely to benefit from professional support.
Whether or not a person will develop PTSD will depend on a number of factors including:
- What the person was like before the trauma (e.g. their personality, values, beliefs)
- Their experience of previous traumatic events
- The severity of the trauma they experienced
- What else is happening in their lives at the time of the trauma
- How well supported they are after the trauma
A person with PTSD may experience a combination of physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms such as:
- Difficulty sleeping and relaxing, and feeling on edge
- Rapid heartbeat or tightness in the chest
- Feeling dizzy and/or upset stomach
- Feeling anxious, sad and/or angry
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Feeling confused
- Feeling shame or guilt
- Experiencing flashbacks to the traumatic event
- Avoiding people, places or objects that are a reminder of the event
- Avoiding thinking about the traumatic event
- Withdrawal from social activities and feelings of isolation
- Lack of motivation
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs to cope
- An inability to go to work
Psychological therapy and/or medications are the most supported treatments for PTSD. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective treatment approach supported by research, and it includes exposure therapy and cognitive therapy. Exposure therapy involves confronting traumatic memories and avoided situations in a gradual and controlled manner. Cognitive therapy involves identifying and modifying unhelpful and distorted thoughts about the traumatic experience. Practising mindfulness and increasing exercise is also effective.
Here at MyLife Psychologists we understand how important it is to feel safe and supported by your therapist. Our psychologists are trained in treating PTSD, and they will work with you to overcome what you’ve been through. To find out more or to make an appointment, contact us.